Young people are drinking less, but what about alcohol-related risky behaviors?

November 2022
By Wing See Yuen

Since the early 2000s across many high-income countries, there have been fewer adolescents and young adults who drink any alcohol and drink at levels that place them at risk of harm [1,2], but this is not the case among middle-aged and older adults [3-5]. In Australia, the percentage of people aged 14 to 29 years who have not had any alcohol doubled between 2001 and 2019 whereas rates of drinking have been relatively stable among people aged 50 and older [5].

At the same time as these declines in overall drinking, the gap in alcohol use between men and women has been closing [6-8]. In the United States, this closing gap appears to be due to men decreasing their rates of drinking faster than women, whereas in Australia this appears to be due to increases in drinking among women but not men [8].

However, it’s unclear what impact these trends have on the prevalence of people engaging in risky behaviour while under the influence of alcohol. We recently analysed data from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) in order to examine whether alcohol-related risky behaviours have declined and whether trends in alcohol-related risky behaviour vary by age, birth year, and sex.

We examined the prevalence of any alcohol-related risky behaviour (e.g., driving, swimming, verbal abuse) from 2001 to 2016 among NDSHS respondents who were aged 14 to 80 years and had consumed alcohol in the past 12 months (n = 121,281).

We found that alcohol-related risky behaviour has declined overall amongst people who drink in Australia between 2001 and 2016. There were increases in prevalence of alcohol-related risky behaviour from age 14 years until a peak at age 21 years, then a steady decline with age. People born in 1954 had the highest prevalence of alcohol-related risky behaviour, and from 1954 onwards alcohol-related risky behaviours became less common with birth year. Overall, males were twice as likely as females to engage in alcohol-related risky behaviour, but this gap was smaller among people who were born during and after the 1980s.

Our results suggest that trends in alcohol-related risky behaviour amongst Australians have been following roughly the same pattern as those found in alcohol use. Future work expanding on these findings should examine trends in alcohol-related harm (e.g., hospitalisations, deaths) to assess whether reductions in alcohol use and risky behaviour translate to reductions in experience of alcohol-related harm.

Read the full study results here.

Wing See Yuen

Wing has worked at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales since 2017. She is currently working on the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study (APSALS), which investigates the consequences of parental supply on adolescent drinking behaviours and associated harms.

Wing completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science with Honours at the University of New South Wales in 2018, and commenced a PhD in Public Health and Community Medicine in 2019.